So. What do you do?
Future Anything’s Nic Dyson describes her journey from high school educator to founder of one of Australia’s most innovative youth entrepreneurship programs, and shares her belief that young people are capable incredible things when they are provided with the space, support and skills to flourish.
“So, what do you do?”
Standard small talk between strangers always seems to begin with what one does for a crust. Whenever I say that I’m an educator, the follow up is 9/10 times whether I work in Primary or Secondary schools. I’m always quite bemused by the response when I say ‘high school.’ Normally, it’s followed by what we call ‘squishy face’- you know, that face someone pulls that’s somewhere between a grimace, and sucking on a raw lemon.
The next comment is normally something along the lines of, “Oh, I could never do that. I don’t know how you work with teenagers. Don’t you just find it awful?”
And then, the person normally launches into a story that links to how ‘teenagers today’ are disrespectful, lazy and lack engagement with anything beyond their screens.
I’ve worked with teenagers for the better part of the last twenty years. Firstly as swimming coach and learn to swim teacher, next as a summer camp counselor in the USA, and then as an HPE and English teacher, before moving onto various other leadership positions within Brisbane high schools.
Primarily, my roles within the public education system were always student focussed- I worked with the ‘hard’ kids; the kids that didn’t hand homework in, or showed up late- or, not at all. I worked with the kids who had more going on than someone of their age should ever have to process and navigate.
And, do you know what?
100% of these young people were incredible humans.
Especially the ‘naughty’ ones.
Ironically, those who have the strongest opinions on the failings of our young people are often those who have the least to do with the demographic in a meaningful way.
Teenagers get a bad wrap. I get it.
Once the tirade against teenagers loses steam, I tell the stranger in front of me what I know about young people today.
I tell them I know that young people today care about their world more than any other generation. I tell them that I know that, when given the chance, young people today will take command of any opportunity they have to change their world for the better. I tell them that I am confident that our world is in safe hands because I see their compassion, their generosity, their passion and their drive to live a life of purpose.
Three years ago, I founded Future Anything.
Using Project-Based Learning as the vehicle, Future Anything began with four classes of Year 9 students in a single school. Over the course of a term, we explored disadvantage and the complex multifaceted ways in which disadvantage manifests and impacts on the spectrum of groups within our society, and the world at large. We looked at business and entrepreneurship in general, and then more importantly, we examined ‘social’ or ‘purpose-led’ entrepreneurship and how the driven, innovative, passionate and stubborn changemakers at the helm of these enterprises were driving a new way of doing business; combining savvy smarts with a conscientious approach to leaving the world better than they found it.
And then, we asked the 115 fourteen year old students sitting in our classrooms to take on the role of entrepreneur and come up with their own enterprises that would close the gap for a marginalised group of choice, and then pitch this innovative idea in their own school based ‘Shark Tank’ to a panel of industry experts.
When we tasked this first cohort with this mission, I had no idea what to expect.
If I’m brutally honest, despite appearing confident on the outside, I quietly feared that the task would be too challenging, too big and too complex for fourteen year olds within a Year 9 English class in a, for all intents and purposes, relatively traditional school.
In reality, the students surpassed any and all expectations.
Our alumnus of this inaugural year, Jordan O’Dell Fontana, launched his own enterprise MentalMusic. MentalMusic is a music-based podcast created for teens by teens. They take young people’s songs and stories, and combine them with expert advice to create a 20–30min podcast. You can find 40+ episodes of their podcast on Spotify.
My favourite part of Jordan’s Future Anything story is hearing him say that he would never have considered entrepreneurship, as a ‘career’ move for him without being exposed to this learning experience within his English classroom.
He never thought to choose business as a subject. He didn’t go to hackathons or business camp on school holidays. He wasn’t running a lemonade stand in his spare time. In his own words, “This has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs, but in the end, I’ve found that you’re never too young to make a difference.”
Since that first year, Future Anything, like our entrepreneurs, has evolved and grown. From 115 students within a single school to now working with hundreds of teachers and thousands of students over fifty schools around the country though our Flare, Spark and Ignite incursion programs, and Activate, our term-long, in-curriculum program.
Young people get a bad wrap.
They’re glued to their social media. They use ‘LOL’, ‘Soz’ and all sorts of other barbaric adaptations to our English language. They don’t stand up on public transport. And, don’t even get me started on Tik Tok.
In saying that, young people today are capable of so much when they are provided with the space, support and skills to flourish. More than any other generation before them, they crave learning experiences that link to life outside of the school gates.
If this is something that resonates with you, then Future Anything is for you.
Join us as we bend the future; one youth-led idea at a time.
About the author:
Nicole Dyson is Founder & Director of Programs at Future Anything and Founder of YouthX, Australia’s only start-up accelerator specifically designed to support young entrepreneurs who are still at school. Connect with Nic on LinkedIn here or Twitter here
This article appeared in Future Anything’s regular e-newsletter, Bending the Future. Every fortnight we’ll shoot you through lesson resources that you can take straight from your inbox into your classroom. We’ll also connect you to things to listen to, watch and attend; supporting educators like you to empower the next generation to dream, design and launch ideas that make their world a better place. You can sign up here!